Music

The Unthanks: Here’s the Tender Coming

Family bands have always an aural chemistry that seems especially suited to acoustic music. The Unthanks benefit from this. It gives their music the patina of authenticity and a sense of roots, even when they are singing tunes written by and for others.


The Unthanks

Here’s the Tender Coming

Label: Rough Trade
US Release Date: 2010-03-23
UK Release Date: 2009-09-19
Amazon
iTunes

Listening to the Unthanks sing the story of a girl working in the coal mines, based on the testimony of Patience Kershaw to a governmental enquiry back in 1842, during a week when 29 miners died in a work related accident in West Virginia shows the timelessness of folk music. While this tune was penned by Frank Higgins in 1969 and was written about a period more than 100 years before, the human cost of extracting coal remains a constant.

So is the splendor of hearing two sisters singing in together in harmony. The combination of Becky and Rachel Unthank’s voices forms a strange and peculiar union. They don’t make a lovely sound by conventional standards. There is something too odd about their timbre and inflections. But family bands have always an aural chemistry that seems especially suited to acoustic music. The Unthanks benefit from this. It gives their music the patina of authenticity and a sense of roots, even when they are singing tunes written by and for others.

This can be heard in the title song from the English band’s new album, Here’s the Tender Coming. The traditional song has nothing to do with soft emotions, but refers to the boat that came to press young men into service as soldiers. While many of us live in a different age of all volunteer military forces, the fact of war and its effect on the families of those who fight it still exists. “If they take thee Geordie, who’s to win our bread / Me and little Jackie, better off be dead” the sisters passionately sing. The song resonates relevantly today, again showing how little times have changed for those at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder.

The Unthanks are more than the two sisters, although some of the best moments -- such as the a capella introduction of “Because He Was a Bonny Lad” -- just features the duo. The sisters are ably accompanied by a band of acoustic players that includes: Adrian McNally on pianos, drums, and tuned percussion; Chris Price on guitar, bass, ukelele, and dulcitone; Neil Harland on double bass; Julian Sutton on melodeon; Jo Silverston on cello; Niopha Keegan on violin, mandolin, and accordion; and Graham Hardy, Simon Tarrant and Chris Hibbard on brass instruments. The sister’s voice are always in the forefront of the nine-piece band, which serves to highlight the singing by adding a gentle accompaniment. The use of bass and drums is especially noteworthy, as it gives the album a full sound that was missing from The Unthanks’ earlier work.

This is especially true on the album’s centerpiece, the tragic traditional love song “Annachie Gordon”, that concerns a lass who would rather die for true love than marry for riches. The eight plus minute ballad goes through a series of sonic permutations as the various states of heart and mind are presented.

Not every song here is gloomy, although the bulk of them are. There are two short (less than a minute interludes) “Where Yer Bin Dick” and “Not Much Luck in Our House” that add a touch of humor to the proceedings. Yet even the sad songs have something effusive about them. They convey a vulnerable sensitivity, like that of the blues, which suggests even feeling bad beats feeling nothing at all.

The Unthanks prove that traditional acoustic folk music is alive and well today. The genre has gone in and out of popularity during the past 100 years, but as long as acts as talented as the Unthanks put out albums as good as this one, folk will continue to inspire, grow, and thrive.

8

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image